On a scorching August day, running along the Hudson I passed a sign: “Runners: Free T-shirt for Interview.”
I stopped and agreed to be interviewed. A sports apparel company was interviewing runners for a commercial. They had constructed a small plywood hut with the cameras inside that was air-conditioned. They had me wear a shirt over the one I had been running in to cover their competitor’s logo.
The interviewer sat facing me just to the side of the camera, clipboard in hand. He perfunctorily asked questions, which I answered, not sure if I should look at him or the camera. The questions were good, along the lines of why I ran, what about it I enjoyed, how running made me feel, how I prepared for a big run, etc. He was doing his job and hardly looked up to look at me.
Until my answer to one question. He almost dropped the clipboard and did drop the unemotional tenor. He looked at me and said, “I’ve been asking the same questions for two days straight, hearing the same answers over and over. But your answer I haven’t heard, and frankly it’s the best one I’ve heard.”
Distance runners hit a wall, maybe it’s at twenty miles, maybe going up a big hill. What do you do to get past the wall?
My life is good. It’s not always easy, though. The things that are hard I don’t always have control over. But getting through the challenges is what makes me who I am.
The reason I run is for the wall.
He asked me to continue so I did:
The first fifteen miles are to push myself so that at miles eighteen, nineteen, and twenty, I find out who I am. If I run ten miles I get exercise, which is nice. After fifteen miles, my legs say stop. Then my lungs. Then my mind. By mile twenty, every part of me except an inner voice says to stop. That voice is me. Everything else is secondary — legs, lungs, other thoughts. I run to challenge myself to find that voice so I can learn who I am and be myself under whatever conditions.
I’ve learned to enjoy something more challenging than most of what life throws at me. Everything else is fun in comparison.
I thought that was why people ran. It’s not fun like a team sport.
In any case, they were out of free shirts in my size.